Bed bugs are the worst thing ever. I'm not going to lie to you; I've had them. With a lot of tedious care and diligence, you can rid yourself of the crafty bloodsuckers, but it takes a lot of time and effort. Unfortunately, due to an increase in global travel, bed bugs are becoming more common. I have friends in Ohio, NYC, Nashville and Michigan who have battled bed bugs.
|I Think I Have Bed Bugs! What Do I do?|
Because more than 80% of bed bugs cannot be killed by chemical sprays, ridding yourself of bed bugs is unbelievably difficult. The only surefire way to kill bed bugs is too heat them (and their eggs) to over 140 degrees Fahrenheit. You can do this with a conventional dryer or a steam cleaner. The best way to fight bed bugs is to combine chemical treatments, heat, natural methods and good ol' fashioned squishing.
What are Bed bugs?
Bed bugs are small bugs that feed off human blood. They're nocturnal, so they bite you while you're sleeping. They tend to bite just before dawn, and feed for about five minutes before returning home. Since you generally sleep in a bed, this is where they like to reside. Bed bugs can be present in mattresses, box springs, headboards, baseboards, in the piles of clothing on your floor. If you live in a multi-bedroom household, they could be living in each bed or couch where people sleep.
How do I know I have bed bugs?
Usually people realize they have bedbugs when they start noticing small, intensely itchy bites. These bites are usually on the hands, forearms, feet and ankles, but bed bugs will bite any skin they can get to quickly. The bites can look like welts or tiny pimples. Many times three bites will be in a cluster (this happens when you move in your sleep and the bed bug gets interrupted while eating). About 70% of people have a reaction to bed bug bites. That means that 30% of people have no itchy or red reaction. This is why bed bug problems can get so out of handif the bed bug bites don't give you skin problems, you may have hundreds of bugs before you notice other telltale signs.
What are the other signs? Bed bugs create a lot of waste, and you should be able to find some around your bed if you have bed bugs. It can consist of shed skins, eggs, dead bugs, and dark spots on your mattress (that's them excreting your blood). You can find their waste inside your mattress, in the box springs, in the headboard or in the linens. Make sure you check in the wood under your box spring and in the creases of your mattress and pillows. If you happen to find a live one, they look like little tiny cockroaches. And, if you happen to find a live one, for the love of God, CRUSH IT.
If you think you have bed bugs, but you can't find waste, try using carpet tape. You can get double-sided carpet tape at the hardware store. Lay strips of this tape all around your bed: any place a bed bug would climb up to get to you. To make this process even easier, move your bed out from the wall, and wrap tape around each foot of the bed. If don't have a bed frame, or your mattress sits on the floor, you can wrap the tape around the box spring, as long as your covers don't hit the tape. We've heard of people going the extra mile and setting their mattress on a tarp surrounded in tape to ascertain whether or not they have bed bugs! It may sound crazy, but believe me, bed bugs will drive you to extreme measures.
If you have bed bugs, take these steps:
Keep sleeping in your bed. Do NOT move to a couch or chair, you will only spread the bedbugs further. Also, Do NOT use a fogger or bug bomb. You'll make the problem worse.
Call your landlord or an exterminator, if you own a home. Your landlord is legally responsible to take care of your bed bug problem. If you find your landlord won't help you, look up the laws in your state and fight the good fight. Make sure you obtain an exterminator who is experienced with bed bugs. You will often need repeat treatments to fully rid your home of bed bugs.
Go to Bedbugger.com. This is the best site for those battling bed bugs. You'll find every bit of info you need, especially if you choose to take care of the problem without an exterminator (not recommended, but possible for the diligent). You'll find resources, tried and true methods, and a forum where you can find fellow sufferers sharing their stress and success stories.
Buy big trash bags and start bagging. This is the best time to weed out what you'd like to keep and throw out. Everything you keep needs to be dried on high heat for at least 40 minutes. Wash all your clothes and linens in hot water, and dry at high heat. When you re-bag these clean items, bag them in fresh bags and keep them out of the bed bug infested area (preferably in your car or in storage at a friend's).
Once you've bagged all your items, you need to clean and vacuum. Vacuum your headboard inside and out. Vacuum each seam of your mattress and pillows thoroughly. Vacuum all over and inside your box spring. Vacuum like you're vacuuming to save your life. Wash all your furniture inside and out with Murphy's Oil Soap. As you find bedbugs, squash them immediately. If you find eggs, vacuum or squish them (steaming them is your best bet; more info on steaming below). You'll find that when you spray bed bugs with most commercial bug sprays, they will simply scuttle on through. Soon you'll be gleefully mashing them with your bare hands. It sounds gross now, but I guarantee you'll feel like a bed bug vigilante superhero.
Throw out your vacuum bags. Wash out your vacuum. Consider buying a special vacuum that you only use on bedbugs so you don't spread the problem about your house. I bought a great shop vac with all kinds of helpful attachments for $40 at a local general store.
Anything you decide to throw out (I threw out my box spring and lots of clothing), label "BED BUGS." Write on the mattress with a giant marker, and make sure the words are visible on the bags. This way your neighbors won't grab your mattress and end up with the same problem.
Consider buying a dry vapor steam cleaner. I bought one really late in the game, after my major problems had been solved, but a steam cleaner is a virtual bed bug killing machine. This way you can steam items you're too broke to part with (like your mattress or couch). Make sure you buy a steamer that reaches at least 200F at the tip.
Steam Cleaning Tips: Use the large head on your steaming nozzle (the smaller one can spray bed bugs in all directions rather than killing them). An effective way to further elevate the temperature of emitted vapor is to wrap the brush head of the steamer in a towel. Steam can be used to treat almost any area where bed bugs are found or suspected. Logical places include beds, couches and recliners, baseboards and carpet edges, beneath and within nightstands and dressers and floor areas (especially under and around beds).
Once your bed and bedroom are bedbug and bed bug egg free, slip your mattress and box springs in bed bug proof mattress encasements. This ensures that any living bed bugs and eggs inside the mattress won't get out, and it prevents other bed bugs from nesting inside your mattress.
If it's questionable, throw it away. To keep my bed bed bug free, I threw away my wooden headboard. Though I loved the way it looked, I had found many eggs there and the thought of keeping it stressed me out. Instead, I bought a cheap metal frame. Bed bugs don't like to live in metal. I moved the bed a foot from the wall on all sides so no bed bugs could crawl up the wall into the bed. I placed each foot of the bed frame in special bed bug traps. You can make traps yourself by pouring mineral oil in a small container and sticking the foot of each bed in the container. You could also coat the leg of each bed in double-sided carpet tape.This way you can see if any bugs are trying to get to you.
My favorite product, the one that helps me sleep at night, is dietomaceous earth. Dietomaceous earth is a naturally occurring, soft, siliceous rock that easily crumbles into a fine powder. Dietomaceous earth doesn't kill bed bugs instantly, but when they walk through it, it strips their shells, causing (a slow, hopefully torturous) death over eight days. I sprinkle dietomaceous earth everywhere in my room monthly. Buy a big bag (make sure it's food grade, not pool grade) and use a baby powder container to sprinkle it anywhere bed bugs might live. Wear a mask or respirator (available at a hardware store) so you don't get any dust in your lungs.Sprinkle it all around your bed frame and the feet of your bed. Cover the baseboards and any cracks in the walls with DE. Place some between your box spring and mattress. The trick is to make a super light coating. I sprinkle DE with a baby powder container, then spread out a super-thin, even coat with a paint brush. Once a month, I vacuum the powder up, steam clean the baseboards, and reapply the DE. You can buy this powder online. It's fairly cheap and it won't harm your pets.
Still infested? If you find more bites or more bugs, you can restress, retreat, rewash, revacuum and resteam. If you live in a multi-unit dwelling, the bugs could be coming in through the walls. You could have missed cleaning the bottom or your nightstand or dresser. You may have other rooms that are infected. Stay strong and keep cleaning. Consider moving if you know other tenants have bed bugs.
If you move. Now that I've been bed bug free for a month, I still take precautions. I had been planning a move during my bed bug ordeal, so before I moved to the new place, I went through everything I owned. I vacuumed each pillow, each book, each CD case, before placing it in a brand new garbage bag. Cleaned items went immediately onto the moving truck. I made sure all my clothes had been cleaned and heated properly. I again turned my couch upside down and vacuumed its innards. I wiped down all my furniture and electronics. I've read many horror stories about people who moved, thinking they'd leave the problem behind, but nothe bed bugs came with them.
Safeguard your house from recurrences. For the new place, I bought a cute metal headboard from this one cheap Swedish furniture store you may have heard of. I still use the traps and double-sided tape, and I can't bring myself to place my bed against the wall just yet. I plan to use dietomaceous earth for at least the next two years, to ensure that any remaining bed bugs must pass through it to bite me. If I find another bed bug or evidence of them, I will again go through the washing, drying, vacuuming and steaming process.
The Cost of Fighting Bedbugs
Fighting bed bugs is costly, both financially and emotionally. I really suggest going to an online forum where you can share your stories with those who have also suffered. All in all, I spent about $800 fighting bed bugs, which is on the cheap end. I bought mattress and box spring covers (two box spring covers, the first one I bought was made out of a flimsy material that ripped), various useless sprays and chemicals, a shop vac, a steam cleaner, a new bed frame, traps, double-sided carpet tape, and a bag of diamotaceous earth.
As far as time, I noticed I was getting bit for about a month before it dawned on me I had bed bugs. Once I realized I had bed bugs, completely getting rid of them took about 3 full treatments of washing, vacuuming, heating and squashing. The entire process lasted just under three months (and the preventative care will continue).
Please visit your state's website to learn more about fighting bed bugs. Other great resources are Bedbugger.com and the Bedbug Registry. Even though you have a stressful fight in front of you, the problem will be behind you soon enough.